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Investing in Love: Jacqueline Kalimunda's 'Single Rwandan'

Jacqueline Kalimunda
Jacqueline Kalimunda's Single Rwandan Seeks Serious Relationship asks ‘How do people love after genocide?’ It uses new technologies to explore the rebirth of love in a society that’s coming out of conflict and will introduce us to Rwanda’s new generation, using the internet to find love and enhance resilience. In three languages –  Kinyarwanda (Rwanda's official language) English and French – it's the first participatory film on love in Rwanda.

I found Single Rwandan's crowdfunding campaign on Twitter. And then watched Jacqueline's pitch clip and some clips she’s shared from the project (below). Jacqueline and the clips enchanted me, made me think and feel deeply. As an exploration of the 'rebirth of love in a society that’s coming out of conflict’, Single Rwandan is extraordinary, I believe, something profoundly important for all of us.

In the English-speaking world, we’re most familiar with Rwanda through films made by other English speakers, who are not Rwandan. And when I googled Rwandan filmmaking I came across, almost immediately,, which Leah Warshawski helped establish, the Kwetu Film Institute and its festival and the Rwanda Film Institute. And I wondered, 'Who are the Rwandan filmmakers?' and 'What’s it like to be a Rwandan woman filmmaker today?' When American investment is involved, are there issues like those in New Zealand, of a new kind of colonisation? But Jacqueline’s responses to my questions attuned me in a different way. Many and warm thanks to her.

Single Rwandan is a four-unit transmedia project on many screens and in many voices: a documentary, a participatory web documentary, a book and an art installation, each looking from a different perspective at the search for love in today's Rwanda and how that search uses the internet and other new technologies. Why did you choose this way to work instead of making a fictional feature film, a documentary or a television series?
I've been making films for 12 years and my two main issues have always been– how do I do to make the movies that I imagine? How do I present my films to the audience I expect to reach? To speak of love in Rwanda after the genocide isn't a story that just belongs to me. If I have a personal interest in it and the will to carry out this project, I nevertheless understood from the beginning that this story is a conversation with many voices. This project belongs to all of those who seek love in Rwanda. It also belongs to all those outside Rwanda who have an interest in, or empathy for, the subject, and, finally, also to those who seek inspiration or insight from this story for their own situation.

Making a film on many screens enables me to make it participatory by including other people's voices. It's also a way to reach a wide public in today's ultra connected societies. As people listen to music from their computers, smartphones, tv, it's increasingly important to tell stories on the screens that people use in their daily lives. It's absolutely essential in order to reach an audience in Africa where movie theatres are rare.

How have you found people who are willing to participate?
I was searching the internet for a narrative I was writing when I found out that Rwandans were well represented on online dating sites. This was a surprise for me as I know Rwanda to be quite a conservative society. So I registered and started chatting with Rwandans on dating websites. I said I was a Rwandan female who wanted to chat with other Rwandans. I met a lot of people. We shared a lot of stories in a very open way. Then I started meeting in real the people I had met on line. Things became tricky. Some people backed away. But some people were very excited to be part of this documentary project.

After that we opened a Facebook page in June 2014 that became an instant success, with 4500 followers today. Some of the people on the Facebook page will also become characters in the film. Characters in the web documentary were all met online which is part of the concept, talking about a connected generation of Rwandans.

I met Donatille, the main character of the documentary in a different way. I was looking for a place that could best express the quest for love in Rwanda. I guess it couldn't be a bank :-). I figured a flowershop would be a good place. I searched flowershops. But flowershops are not so common in Rwanda any more. They've been replaced by street vendors. I found two flowershops. One in a luxury hotel and the other one in the centre of Kigali. I met the owners and fell for Donatille's charisma.

photo: ©Alexandre Leglise for Simba Productions 2014 
Humour and comedy are important to you. What place does it have in finding love after conflict? Is Single Rwandan a hybrid documentary/ romantic comedy?
Humour is essential. It helps take things lightly. Humour and love are two elements we all share or should share. I love the idea of making documentary romcom.

So far, what have you learned about the rebirth of love after conflict? Have you been surprised?
Everyone kept telling me that Rwandans are investing in love. Indeed Valentine's Day has become like a new public holiday. Weddings that are celebrated with lavish ceremonies. But there's also lots of single mothers, and men seem to wander around a lot. Families have been crushed and people have a hard time settling down even though they pretend that's what they want. Rwanda's conservative society has gone through a few juicy scandals that everybody knows but few will talk about it.

Love is tricky and not easy but that's why there's a good story to be told. I couldn't expect any less but what I really like though is that some of the stories could happen just anywhere not just in Rwanda. There's a lot to share.

Do the stories come only from heterosexuals?
I tend to treat homosexuality like any type of love. And I do have a character who's gay in the film. But it's not always so easy for homosexuals in Rwanda even though it's nothing compared to Uganda for example. You and I talked about exposing my characters and how it could be uneasy for them. Well I'm waiting for the films to come out to expose all of them. And of course no one will appear without having given their permission. Just like I checked with everyone to find out how the teasers I put online were perceived.

Can you write a little bit about your development as a filmmaker?
This is a question that requires a long answer. I'll try to make it short. From my Rwandan childhood in Kigali, I've always wanted to create. I started writing very early and I was part of collective painting exhibitions at the French Cultural Center at the age of 14. The French Cultural Center had a theatre where I discovered the amazing freedom of Jean Pierre Belmondo in Godard's Breathless, the intense emotions of Bergman in Persona and I clearly remember being with my sister in an empty theatre watching Kubrick's Shining. At home we fed on Indian Bollywood films, Bruce Lee, western movies (that's how I discovered Clint Eastwood) and French popular movies. And I read a lot.

Histoire de Tresses, my first short film, talked about a African woman in Paris in search for another woman to braid her hair in order to help her recover her lost memory. The film was nominated Best Short Film in Milan and was later presented at the International Film Festival in Venice. This film toured the world (Toronto, England with the British Film Institute, the US with the New York African Film festival, Zanzibar...).

Homeland is my second film and the first film I made in Rwanda. It was an historic documentary that explored the origins of the Rwandan genocide from the perspective of people who were 20 years old the year of the genocide (like myself) and people who were around 20 years old the year of Rwanda's independence (like my mother who turned 20 in 1962). This film was distributed in Japan for a year in a small movie theater in Tokyo :-). It was also broadcast in Africa, France, Poland, Middle East, USA... And it's still being requested for screenings. In 2004 it screened in Japan again, in Lille and at the Shoah Memorial in Paris.

Still from High Life
I made four other films/tv series after that– Imagine Africa a pan-African tv show featuring young dynamic Africans, High Life, a teenage comedy for Canal Plus, the story of a tomboy who wants to lose her virginity before she's 18 and ends up with her potential loverboy tied up in the bathroom and Burning Down, the story of an African student in France with a tough choice to make– making quick money by burning the building he lives in or being pushed out of his brilliant studies. This film was developed with Kisha Cameron Dingle and Matt Plouffe from Focus Features New York. Developing this film was my own personal revolution.

How was it your own revolution? What changed for you?
I learned how to be demanding with myself, the power of good teamwork. But maybe the most important part is that all those tiring conversations taught me what I had that was truly original and different from other directors. And that's what I go for today. I don't think I would have been able to develop Single Rwandan if I hadn't worked with Kisha, Matt and all the mentors at the Focus Features meeting.

What kinds of stories do you want to tell?
I'm a big movie fan. I love stories and I love actors. I love working with crews and casts. I always try to make the experience exciting for everyone. I'm working hard to improve my craft and I've actually improved what I do.

Of course, it's important to create with who you are. But identity is always complex and dynamic. For example, I've been working on three long-term projects adapted from books I love. One is from a novel by Maryse Condé and takes place in West Africa and the Caribbean, one is from a novel by John Le Carré. It talks about Africa but it's set in a beautiful castle in Europe. The last one is inspired by an African myth, a siren called Mamiwata, who saves an island from shark attacks.

I tend to develop a very personal vision that uses who I am– an African woman, a Rwandan woman, a French woman, a lover of literature, of paintings and art in general, a mum, a curious person, a lover of comedy. I don't need to put African drums in my films to prove I'm from Africa. I'm totally open to different viewpoints. I also produce and this is a good way to always remain open to different visions. But I trust my vision to be unique and I love to feel alive when I'm working.

Can you write a little bit about Rwandan film generally? I think there’s a large and enthusiastic film audience?
There are three movie theatres in Rwanda. One mainly shows Hollywood blockbusters. No figures have been published, but before starting Single Rwandan, we made a short market survey about Rwandans’ habits with movies. It appeared that Rwandans prefer to watch movies at home from cable/satellite television, from DVDs or on their computers from internet movie files.

Where do Rwandan filmmakers working in Rwanda find funding? Is there a state film fund like the CNC in France?
Rwandan filmmakers find funds abroad or with local and foreign NGOs working in Rwanda. There's been talk of a film fund but I haven't heard of any thing happening really. To be followed.

Are there lots of Rwandan women directors?
It still remains difficult to make films in Rwanda. But some people manage to do it and some of them are women. Unfortunately I don't know them so well. There's Kiki Katese who's also a great theatre author and my friends told me about Clementine Dusabejambo.

What issues affect Rwandan women directors in Rwanda and out in the world?
When you work in countries with a larger movie crowd it's easier to find crew and cast, it's easier to develop your stories, but you don't get the kind of support you can get at home. Work can be harder.

You’re a mother. What are the 'mother' challenges for you and how do you resolve them?
I have a 4 year old daughter. Basically I decided that where I go, my daughter goes. My husband and I spend a lot of time with her and we try to travel together. He's a music composer and a guitarist. We travelled with her to London when she was two months old and he had concerts there. A week later, I went with her alone to New York to work with the Focus Features team. A friend of mine came from DC to baby sit at night and I had a super nurse babysit my daughter in the day. I was with her at night of course but I was tired and I was breastfeeding. So I hung around in the day with a milk pump. It was so funny and strange I guess, when I left meetings to lock myself and pump my milk! So far she's been around two film productions and a few concerts. People around us love having her around. It's a lot of work and a lot of joy.

My daughter is making me rethink how I work though. Being a mum and a film director is challenging. As she grows up, I might write and produce more and direct less – because directing means travelling.

Jacqueline at Musanze photo: ©Alexandre Leglise for Simba Productions 2014

How does your global fluidity interact with your Rwandan-ness?
In 2010 I was a Berlinale Talent. Most or all people I met came from one country and worked in another country. A French director based in Cuba, then the United Kingdom, a Polish director based in London, a Greek director based in the States. And I a Rwandan director based in France. It's a global trend. I used to live in London, now I'm near Paris. I also lived in Nairobi, Kenya and Kigali of course. I tend to see my 'Rwandan-ness' as a flexible notion. It's important to keep on speaking Kinyarwanda, the language spoken in Rwanda.

How far have you got with Single Rwandan?
We've shot some parts of the film this year. This a documentary with real characters. If they may appear like actors, it's because we spend time with them, making them comfortable with the camera. I tend to show empathy with my characters and its shows on camera. My crew, Alexandre Leglise, DOP, Valens Habarugira, 2nd camera, Jeremie Halbert and Ayuub Kasasa Mago are two French men and two Rwandan men. They are good people, very professional and very kind. We hope to finish the films by spring next year and release on multiple screens short after. In 2015.

Single Rwandan will be out on TV5 Monde,,, TV10, TVTours, huge distribution. You have the support of CNC, Tribeca Film Institute New Media Fund and the Ford Foundation. You’ve presented the project at Power to the Pixel in London. Why do you need to crowdfund?
The most important reason why we're turning to crowdfunding is that we need to collect stories, gather a multitude of voices, a multitude of sources, for the story we're telling. This takes time but it's the only way to make a real participatory film, a people's film. Even though several partners have already committed themselves, few funds have been released so far. I need to capture on film the beautiful and moving moments that have been lived by the film's characters, which takes time. And we don't have the wherewithal to take the next steps forward.

Now we want to crowdfund and find 55000€ by 28 November to be certain that we can finish story and technical development before the end of this year and be able to present Single Rwandan in 2015. We're also hoping to mobilise a community to support this documentary film.

photo: ©Alexandre Leglise for Simba Productions 2014

Single Rwandan

Indiegogo campaign

Jacqueline herself


All photographs  © Simba Productions 2014.

Jacqueline's clip


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